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Building Relational Ecosystems for Innovation

Partnering, Ecosystems, Innovation

Ecosystem partners have played an increasing role in advancing companies’ digital transformations, helping the companies to digitize (by providing access to new technologies) and become more digital (by collaborating on innovative digital offerings). In addition, companies in the MIT CISR community increasingly contribute to solving grand societal challenges, such as affordable healthcare and climate change, that require multiple ecosystem actors working together at multiple levels.

Ecosystems for innovation require relational forms of coordination to manage conflicting priorities and collaborative work that is interdependent, uncertain, and time constrained. Quantitative evidence from MIT CISR research indicated that ecosystems performed better if they scored higher on joint goals, mutual benefits, and effective information sharing. Building and supporting high-quality relationships is even more challenging among multiple organizations than it is within a single organization due to differences in power, communication, and digital readiness among other factors. In this study, we explore how organizations design high-performing relational ecosystems for innovation. Research questions include:

  • How do interdependent actors coordinate relationships to create value in ecosystems?
  • What are the key mechanisms—such as ecosystem metrics and digital readiness—that support relational coordination for value creation in ecosystems?
  • How do interdependent actors in ecosystems overcome power differentials and lack of trust to build momentum toward sustainable value creation?

Methods: We aim to develop a conceptual framework for relational ecosystems that is useful for practice, policy, and research based on 20–30 research interviews, a review of public sources, and 2–3 case studies or vignettes.

Seeking: Executives who are actively engaged in building and managing ecosystems for innovation

Contact: Ina Sebastian


Ina M. Sebastian, Research Scientist

Ina studies how large enterprises transform for success in the digital economy. Her current research areas are digital partnering—including strategies to grow with digital partners and partnering strength—and value creation and value capture in digital models.

Jody Hoffer Gittell, Professor

Jody is Professor of Management at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy & Management, and co-founder and board member of the Relational Coordination Collaborative. She is interested in how stakeholders achieve their desired outcomes in coordination with each other. 

Related publications

MIT CISR research is funded by the more than seventy-five firms that sponsor our work and participate in our consortium. 

MIT CISR Patrons
Axway, Inc.
Pegasystems Inc.
Standard Bank Group (South Africa)
The Ogilvy Group
MIT CISR Sponsors
Allstate Insurance Company
ANZ Banking Group (Australia)
Banco Bradesco S.A. (Brazil)
Banco do Brasil S.A.
Bank of Queensland (Australia)
BlueScope Steel (Australia)
BNP Paribas (France)
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Cabot Corporation
Caterpillar, Inc.
CEMEX (Mexico)
Charles River Laboratories, Inc.
CIBC (Canada)
Cochlear Limited (Australia)
Commonwealth Superannuation Corp. (Australia)
Cuscal Limited (Australia)
CVS Health
DBS Bank Ltd. (Singapore)
Doosan Corporation (Korea)
Fidelity Investments
Fomento Economico Mexicano, S.A.B., de C.V.
Fortum (Finland)
General Mills, Inc.
General Motors Corporation
Gilbane Building Co.
Henkel AG & Co. (Germany)
Hitachi, Ltd. (Japan)
Johnson & Johnson (J&J)
Kaiser Permanente
King & Wood Mallesons (Australia)
Koç Holding (Turkey)
National Australia Bank Ltd.
Nomura Holdings, Inc. (Japan)
Nomura Research Institute, Ltd. Systems Consulting Division (Japan)
Pacific Life Insurance Company
Pioneer Natural Resources USA Inc.
Posten Norge AS (Norway)
Principal Financial Group
Procter & Gamble
Ramsay Health Care (Australia)
Raytheon Technologies
Reserve Bank of Australia
SC Global Tubular Solutions
Scentre Group Limited (Australia)
Schneider Electric Industries SAS (France)
State Street Corp.
Stockland (Australia)
Suncorp Group (Australia)
Teck Resources Limited (Canada)
Tetra Pak (Sweden)
Trinity Health
Truist Financial Corporation
UniSuper Management Pty Ltd (Australia)
Webster Bank, N.A.
Westpac Banking Corporation (Australia)
WestRock Company
Wolters Kluwer
Zoetis Services LLC
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